Good Causes

How Gentleman Jack helped put Shibden Hall on the map

“There’s definitely a Gentleman Jack effect,” says Angela Clare when asked if visitor numbers to Shibden Hall have been boosted by the hit TV series that was watched by 6Million people a week.

The Grade II listed building, about a mile from Halifax, was the home of Anne Lister, the English diarist who has been dubbed the ‘first modern lesbian’. It has also been used as a filming location for both series of Gentleman Jack, a historical drama set in the 1830s starring Suranne Jones as Lister.

Shibden Hall, its barn and the surrounding estate have been restored with the help of National Lottery funding. Angela, the collections and exhibitions manager at Calderdale Museums, says National Lottery support also allowed the Hall to tell Lister’s story in greater detail using interactive screens. Visitors can also watch a film about Helena Whitbread, the historian who broke the code Lister used to keep the most personal parts of her diaries secret.

Says Angela, “In 2019 when the first series aired the number of people visiting Shibden tripled almost overnight. People were queuing around the gardens to get in. It was epic.

“The pandemic hit the following year, but we still have very high visitor numbers. Obviously, Gentleman Jack is just one interpretation of Anne’s story, but it’s a great representation and it’s helped us reach so many people.”

Lister was a singular figure. She had multiple relationships with women from her school days onwards, dressed only in black and took long trips abroad. Her final significant relationship was with Ann Walker, to whom she was notionally married at a church in York.

Her diaries reveal a great deal about her development of Shibden Hall and her interests in medicine, mathematics, landscaping, mining, railways and canals.

Says Angela, “You can see Anne’s influence throughout the landscape and the buildings at Shibden. She’s everywhere.”

Angela’s favourite object at Shibden Hall is Anne’s travel case which would have accompanied her on her adventurous trips across Europe. “It’s just a wooden box with a fold down writing slope, but it’s a very personal object. You know that a lot of the letters she wrote were written on this box.”

Shibden Hall is open from 1st March to 31st October.

8th February 2024

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